Binita Mehta-Parmar is Director of Modern Britain, a centre-right group exploring innovative thinking on a range of issues important to BME communities, and author of The New Migration Contract.
The appointment of Sajid Javid, the first ethnic minority Home Secretary, should be a matter of huge pride for every Conservative. That he is also the son of Pakistani immigrants who came to Britain with a pound in their pocket is a sign that our country is a place where anyone can succeed, regardless of their background.
As the first British Asian to occupy a Great Office of State, he himself exemplifies integration in modern Britain. I am convinced that this historic appointment will help to show Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters that our party is truly inclusive and genuinely values equality of opportunity.
Having diverse representatives at all levels of politics is – of course – important, alongside the kind of engagement we have seen recently during the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, with Number 10’s reception celebrating the Punjabi New Year taking place this week and our Prime Minister rolling rotis with the congregation at a Gurdwara.
What ultimately matters most, though, are the policies that a government implements. Hence, in his challenging new role, our Home Secretary has a crucial opportunity to help persuade BME voters to support our party. Those votes will be vital for our party’s future electoral success – not just at the next election, given British Future found it was the ethnic minority vote gap which cost us our majority in 2017, but in the longer term as the UK’s BME population grows, with Policy Exchange predicting it to double to 25-30 per cent of the nation by 2050. Put simply, the Conservatives will not be able to win Parliamentary majorities without attracting a much higher level of support from citizens across all BME communities.
Having attractive policies is also the right thing for us to do as a government committed to tackling the burning injustices that our Prime Minister has identified, as well as genuinely representing the whole nation.
Inevitably, the issue of immigration, the policy that led to Amber Rudd’s resignation, will be hugely important. As Javid said himself, when first hearing about those needlessly affected by the Windrush scandal, they reflected people like him and his family: people who chose to make Britain their home some decades ago and have given their new country so much. A pragmatic former Remainer, now fully behind Brexit, I believe that our new Home Secretary can use the unique opportunity afforded to us to reframe our immigration policy into an ambitious but deliverable system, where we seek to positively attract the most talented, entrepreneurial and hardworking from all over the world.
He conceded in his first Commons speech in post that our policies have been universally regarded as unfair – so this polarising issue must be tackled head-on. Brexit is drawing ever closer, so the need to outline our independent offer to immigrants is increasingly important.
Javid’s bold and outspoken work on the integration green paper as Communities Secretary demonstrates his will to tackle difficult and long-standing issues. But a new system will only succeed if it secures the confidence of the public, businesses and public services. For this reason, the first move Javid should make is to rid the department of the removals targets that were the downfall of his predecessor and establish his own rules for future success, as he is said to be considering.
Taking students out of targets which bundle all migrants together should be considered. This would signal the seriousness of the Home Secretary to put his own stamp on his new department, as he promised to do.
We should be attracting more – not fewer – international students to our universities, especially as this business is both profitable and critically important to our long term soft power. Our country has a competitive advantage over most other countries, which ought to be exploited.
What is required of the Home Office is a balanced system where the Government has strict controls on unrestricted immigration of low-skilled workers whilst being open to and welcoming highly-skilled immigrants. We need to use this opportunity to attract the migrants our country needs for future economic success and in turn give newcomers the tools they need to integrate quickly. As he has said himself, politicians need to respond to the electorate’s understandable concerns about the scale and type of excessive immigration, so I believe he will be exercised on this matter.
Working to rebuild public trust in the management of immigration is key. Our party’s determination to control our borders and sensibly limit the number of new migrants is often portrayed by the Left as demonstrating a hostility to all migration and migrants. We must avoid the kind of toxic rhetoric on immigrants that has dogged us of late and instead focus on demonstrating that we want to attract the right kind of migrants for the future that will help us to thrive economically, while also tackling uncontrolled illegal immigration.
Much more must be done on integration, with every citizen encouraged to integrate into British society, not into separate communities. This should have Javid’s support, having shared his mother’s own story about learning English and decrying the approach of successive governments to a misguided policy of multiculturalism, saying: “Rather than helping to bring people of different cultures together, the policy has acted to divide them.”
This integration paper also made clear the new Home Secretary’s commitment to the inclusion of new citizens into our country. What better way to signal this than to welcome them into our society through patriotic public citizenship ceremonies? Currently, citizenship ceremonies where migrants become British are held in soulless, dingy town halls. For the migrant and their families, these are often emotional, proud, and significant moments; for everyone else they are invisible.
In Australia, they do things differently: new citizens are celebrated as full members of the community publicly on Australia Day, where many existing Aussies join them to reaffirm their status. This may sound superficial, but could be hugely symbolic of our new approach. Swearing allegiance to the Queen and recognising the values of our country is the ultimate display of Britishness. That is why it is right to celebrate those occasions as important – not just for the new citizen, but for our country as a whole. Why not take our citizenship ceremonies out of town halls and instead host them during major British cultural and sporting events, such as the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon, Glastonbury, or the Edinburgh Tattoo? The settlement of the three million EU citizens into the UK post-Brexit should incorporate this new citizenship celebration at its start – it is important to signal a welcome to the new citizens we will be gaining.
There are many priorities on the new Home Secretary’s to-do list, but I hope he will seize the opportunity to prove genuine will to signal the changing Conservative Party with fresh ideas and a positive outlook on immigration.